Beware the Glare!

I can’t help but notice that a lot of otherwise good photos on Etsy are ruined by easily preventable glare and/or reflections.  Lighting seems to really be an issue for a lot of folks, but I think that many problems could be solved by taking a few minutes to think about where you’re shooting in relation to the variety of light sources that are present.  To illustrate my point, I’ve decided to use a rather extreme example.  Now I’m not saying that I see photos with problems this severe.  But I do think that by using this example, I can get you on the road to better photos just by taking a little extra time to plan your shots.

Here’s how I set things up for my example:

I took a few beer bottle caps, and arranged them on the granite top of a kitchen island.  There are a lot of windows in the kitchen and the adjoining rooms, so there was quite a bit of natural light available.  But since it was early afternoon, in summer, the sun was high in the sky and there was no sunlight streaming in any of those windows.  I set up my camera on a tripod, opposite a north-facing window (I live in the Northern Hemisphere), so I would be able to repeat my shots without worrying about camera position.  I fixed my aperture (at f/13 in case anyone is interested) and let the camera do its best at automatically controlling the shutter speed to get the proper exposure.  Clicked the shutter and here’s what I got:

Ugly, isn’t it?  I can barely read the bottle caps, there are some nasty shadows, I can’t tell the color of the granite and I can actually see the window mullions in the reflection.  Great shot!

So let’s say that we’re really only interested in the bottle caps anyway, so why not just expose those properly and not worry about the background?  Well, here’s why:

Now I can read (some of) the bottle caps better, but it looks like they’re on a white background (hey, I wanted something of interest in the background).  The nasty shadows are still there, the cap in the back has almost disappeared, and the colors aren’t right.  Another loser!

Now comes the important part.  I made one (yes, only one) small change.  I didn’t move the camera or make any adjustments, didn’t move the bottle caps, didn’t turn on indoor lights or close curtains or hang sheets in the window.  All I did was hold a small piece of ordinary cardboard behind the bottle caps so that the reflection of the cardboard, not the window, was seen by the camera.  Remember, I didn’t block the window – I just placed the cardboard in the small reflected area that was being picked up by the lens of the camera.  Here’s what I got (click to zoom):

Not too shabby, eh?  I can see all the bottle caps, and their colors are true.  The harsh shadows are gone.  I can actually tell that the background is granite.  I can see the gentle depth of field effect that I was going for.  And what about reflections?  Well, instead of the window mullions, now I have some cool looking reflections of the caps themselves.

So you see, it really wasn’t that difficult to turn a really crappy photo into a rather pleasing one.  Just use the best photography tool that you have — your head!

Until next time … Happy Shooting!

6 thoughts on “Beware the Glare!

  1. I think that is exactly what a lot of people have problems with when they take photos. There is just a small step missing between OK and wonderful – if only you could figure out what the step was.

    Another cool post Greenpix. I like how you focus on a small change to improve photos.

  2. Thanks again for a very clear, concise explaination of something that can make our pictures even better. I truly like your step by step breakdown, it makes it very easy to follow and understand. Great pic by the way! Another excellent post!

  3. Thanks for the tip. I have tried several approaches but have yet to successfully accomplish photographing my fused glass pendants. Perhaps this will help.

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